Monday, March 19, 2012

Bloggers, Critics, and Presenters

At the heart of the current discussions of the Spring for Music blogger contest lies the fact that all too many presenters, publicists, and musical organizations are still trying to figure out what the heck to do with bloggers.

The media landscape has shifted enormously in the last ten years. In the US, newspapers no longer have a staff of music critics - except the Times (and any other paper?) - and it seems most papers don't even have one any more. There are two full-time classical music critics left in California, if I'm not mistaken. Bloggers aren't exactly making up the journalism gap, but we're trying.
Many or most bloggers aren't credentialed; that is, many of us are writing about subjects in which we don't have a degree or professional experience or some other imprimatur of respectability. We're not writing for an official organization, whether that's a newspaper or magazine an online journal such as SFCV or NewMusicBox or Salon or the HuffPost.

We're not professionals who are getting paid for what we do, though I was getting paid for reviews by SFCV before I started blogging, and at least one blogger has vaulted into the pages of the NY Post.

Locally, how bloggers get treated by musical organizations varies quite a bit, depending on the attitudes and knowledge of their press departments, paid publicists, and/or the organization members running publicity on a volunteer basis. Here's some of what I know:

  • A few medium-sized professional organizations regularly send me ticket offers.
  • These organizations are somewhat haphazard about who they do offer tickets to.
  • A number of small organizations have me on their press lists, but don't send ticket offers.
  • One small organization that I know of has been making ticket offers to bloggers, among other reviewers, since last spring.
  • I don't get offers from SFS, though from the number of bloggers I see there, I think they give tickets on request to bloggers.
  • SF Opera doesn't make offers to bloggers (or at least not to me). They have been known to refuse to put bloggers on their press-release mailing list, which I simply don't understand. I do get their press releases, presumably because I've reviewed them many times for SFCV.
Here's what I think musical organizations and presenters should do: make up your minds about your policies, let bloggers know what they are, and be consistent. 

This is especially important for small organizations. As a matter of your own survival, I think it behooves you to make comps available to bloggers. We all know that Joshua Kosman can't be in more than one place a night or three or four places each week. Even SFCV can't cover the onslaught of performances; they have limits of their own. 

You want coverage, we're your best source. At the organization size I'm thinking of, wider coverage from bloggers might even make a difference in attendance and in general awareness of your group.

It's not a survival issue for SFS and SFO, or, I imagine, for presenters such as SF Performances and Cal Performances. They've got the big bucks donors, which small choruses, new music groups, and other small organizations simply don't.

Here's hoping that Bay Area music organizations figure out blogging and bloggers.


John Marcher said...

Excellent observations as usual, Lisa, which make me want to add my two cents. For awhile, I reposted almost everything I'd written on my blog onto the local site (under my real name) and arts organizations and PR companies for performers quoted from it left and right, as the "Examiner" imprimatur seems to convey some sort of validation, despite the fact that anyone can write for them and many of the people who do are seriously bad writers or just plain boring.

After it became too cumbersome to follow their rules and because I didn't want to be associated with the other local coverage on the site, I bailed on it. Now it's very rare to see a quote lifted for publicity from A Beast, and almost every other blog I know of, with LAO being the one consistent exception, even though there's no qualitative difference between what I wrote on the blog vs what I placed on the Examiner site (except for ommitting the character narratives found in the blog).

I think this is a shame for the companies themselves, who seemingly have decided to not call attention to positive coverage of their events found in blogs, even though here in the Bay Area there are usually more bloggers covering performances than there are representaives from the more "traditional" outlets.

And yet we do have an effect- a case in point being the debut of Urban Opera a couple of years ago. Their production of Dido and Aeneas received almost no advance coverage before the performances, and at opening night the only writers I recognized in the audience were bloggers, but by the final night it was sold out, and I would posit the great reviews from those who did attend the first night helped spur not only additional coverage (it ended up on Kosman's 10 Best list that year), but also helped drive ticket sales for the remainder of the weekend. Of course that doesn't happen all the time- the companies have to put on something that's actually worth raving about- but it does happen.

As you know, I'm the blogger who was refused addition to SFO's press release list, no doubt for some negative things I've written about Gockley, which is stupid on their part. Their prissiness is not going to make me stop going or writing about them because I do this as a labor of love, so to speak- and they obviously don't realize that when I do like something they put on, or commend Gockley on something done well (hey, it's happened), at least my readers know it must be good, and not just a puff piece like those commonly found on a site that shant be named.

MEW said...

The Philadelphia Inquirer still has two classical music critics on staff, David Patrick Stearns and Peter Dobrin.

That statement is a bit misleading, though. At this point, Dobrin is as much culture reporter (covering music and non-music subjects) as music critic. Stearns does most of the profiles of musicians coming through town and the greater share of reviewing. (He does almost all the reviewing of local groups that aren't the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Opera Company of Philadelphia.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, goodness (whacking self in forehead)! Thank you for the reminder of something I once did know!!!